This particular chapter in my life began nearly 7 months ago with a phone call that I was completely unprepared for. My father had gone home early from work as he was not feeling well and didn’t show up the following day. When he couldn’t be reached by phone a friend went to check on him only to discover that he had passed away sometime overnight from a heart attack. Just one month shy of his 54th birthday this was certainly an unexpected shock that took many people by surprise and left a big hole in my life.
Growing up as a kid I did everything with my dad, and considering that just about everything he did revolved around hunting you can see where my obsession came from. As I grew up my dad became more than just a father figure, he became a friend and my best hunting partner. He was there when I shot my first deer, he was there when I shot my first buck, and he was always my first phone call when I got out of the woods for the day. Just days after his passing I knew that I wouldn’t feel the complete effects of him being gone until October came around.
As spring gave way to summer and my life began returning to normal my thoughts began drifting once more to hunting season. One particular farm where my dad spent most of his time in the tree over the past few years is a spot that’s proven rather difficult to hunt. Despite our best efforts neither of us had been able to tag a quality buck here in 6 seasons of hunting. It became my personal quest to harvest a buck from this farm. Not only did I want to prove to myself that it could be done, but I wanted to do it for my dad as well.
During mid-July I began putting my trail cameras out to get an inventory of the bucks I may be hunting that fall. Although I didn’t get any buck photos for nearly a month after setting my cameras out, one fateful July day I finally had a nice buck show up. He was a nice 8 point with a kicker on his left G-2. As I was reviewing my pictures that night at home I had paused a game of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out (yes, the Nintendo game) on my computer. I immediately decided to call this buck “Little Mac” after the underdog character in the video game.
My first photo of “Little Mac” taken in late July.
“Little Mac” was a buck I knew fairly well, as I captured several trail camera photos of him in 2009 as a 2 year old.
Over the course of the next two months Little Mac was the only good buck to consistantly show up on my trail camera. Although it’s certainly nice to see a good buck living in your hunting area, it’s a bit concerning when he’s the only one! I knew that chasing him down come hunting season would be no easy task, but I was bound and determined to give it my best shot.
My first daytime photos of Little Mac standing in a mock scrape I made in late September.
Now when it came to hunting, my dad and I had much different opinions on when and where to hang treestands. Despite my best efforts to change his ways, he just never seemed to listen to my input. I suppose a lot of dads are like that. After all, who ever wants to admit that their kids may be right? For me, this meant a very limited amount of input on stand placement or when certain stands would be hunted.
When it came time for me to hang stands in August and September I felt extremely guilty for pulling down some of my dad’s favorite treestands. He had hunted these stands rain or shine, no matter the time of year or wind conditions for years. I figured they had their opportunities to prove themselves and now it was time for a change. I also knew that he was undoubtedly watching me from somewhere, cursing up a storm that I was going to spook all the damn deer out of the woods! But as I said, I was bound and determined to do this whether he liked it or not.
Opening weekend finally rolled around here in Illinois and after continuing to get photos of Little Mac and finding a lot of fresh rubs in several areas close to my stands I was pretty excited. I got up early, showered and headed into the stand I thought would give me the best shot at this buck. Unfortunately after that hunt, and two more that weekend, I hadn’t even seen a deer!
After that first weekend I had a family trip to Pennsylvania followed by a trip to our lease in Central Illinois so it was nearly three weeks until I got back to hunt this farm. That weekend I sat 3 more times and once again I didn’t see any deer. At this point I was starting to wonder if I knew what I even knew what I was doing! Fortunately Little Mac was still showing up on my trail camera on a fairly regular basis which helped to keep me motivated.
Although you can’t see his rack, this is probably my favorite picture of Little Mac. He truly is a beautiful whitetail.
Two weeks later brought us into November with cold temps and the rut really starting to kick in. I took an extra day off work that weekend and spent nearly 3 straight days in the stand. This time I didn’t get skunked however. Each trip to the woods brought deer sightings and several very close encounters with does and several small bucks. I still hadn’t laid eyes on Little Mac, or any of the other shooters that showed up on trail camera in the last couple weeks, but I wasn’t giving up quite yet. As I wrote in this blog here, I was convinced that my persistance was going to pay off.
Heading into the weekend of November 13th I had one last trip down to Central Illinois planned. I spent three days hunting down there with my buddy Jeremy and cameraman Cody. Although Jeremy saw some good deer, I didn’t see even one buck that was anywhere close to being a shooter. In my three years on this property it was my worst weekend of hunting ever, and it was mid-November with perfect weather conditions!
After the morning hunt on Sunday we elected to return home. Jeremy and Cody both had to work on Monday morning and the idea of getting little to no sleep didn’t sound like much fun to them, especially considering we hadn’t seen much action. I had one last day of vacation from work so I figured it couldn’t hurt to head back out in pursuit of Little Mac. Knowing I would be hunting this particular wood lot the following day, when I returned home I shaved off what was left of my beard and just left my version of a mustache, partially in homage to my dad who always sported one of the greatest ‘staches of all time.
When my alarm went off at 4 am on Monday morning not only did my wife want to kill me, but I certainly didn’t want to get out of bed. I was seconds away from throwing in the towel on the morning hunt and sleeping in when that nagging voice that’s inside of every hunter told me to get up and get out there. November only comes once a year and I’ll have plenty of time to sleep after the season ends. So with some reluctance I got up, showered and headed out the door.
I was set up in a stand overlooking a creek crossing 30 minutes before light. Temperatures were in the mid 20’s but with winds from the SSW it was perfect for this spot. The 40 yard stretch of creek in front of me seemed to be the preferred crossing spot for deer traveling from one side of the woods to the other. With bucks still seeking hot does I knew it was my best bet for getting a shot that day.
I stopped and pulled the SD card from a trail camera on my way in, only to find photos of Little Mac taken just 24 hours before I arrived. This really lifted my spirits for this morning’s hunt.
Roughly an hour into my hunt a small 1 1/2 year old buck appeared heading down the creekline straight towards me. Before he got to my location he stopped, looked up the hill and trotted up and out of sight. Seconds later he returned in pursuit of a doe and her fawn. Once he determined she wasn’t in heat he quickly turned his attention elsewhere and continued on his way. I figured this was a good sign and hoped other bucks would be out looking for love just as he was.
Shortly before 8 am I heard noise to my right and glanced over only to see Little Mac coming down the trail straight towards me. Although I didn’t see his rack, I could clearly see his face and knew him immediately. Without thinking twice I turned on my video camera, hit record and grabbed my bow off the hanger.
The buck approached the creek crossing slowly and as I came to full draw he stopped behind some brush at less than 10 yards. As I anticipated him coming across the creek slowly, he suddenly took one big leap and began up the opposite bank! My attempt to stop the buck with a “Maaa” nearly scared him half to death as he lept directly away from me and then back across the creek the way he came! Still at full draw this entire time my heart sank and I could not believe what I was seeing! I had him at less than 10 yards and he was getting away!
Someone must’ve been looking out for me this day as the buck stopped in the one spot where I still had a shot at 20 yards. It was tight, and there were a few twigs in the area but I knew I could put my arrow where it needed to be. So I lined up my 20 yard pin, took a breath and let it go. With the tell-tale “thwack” my NAP Nitron tipped arrow found it’s mark and buried into his side up to the fletchings. Little Mac tore off through the woods but it was too late. He stopped just 40 yards away and soon fell over. The woods were silent once more.
At this point my adrenaline was so high I didn’t know what to say. As you’ll see in the video I was pretty excited! After filming my interview and turning the camera off a wave of emotions washed over me. For a few minutes I simply sat in silence, reflecting on the experiences of my season and this great morning. Words simply cannot describe the feelings of joy, relief and sadness I felt all at the same time.
Once my celebratory text messages were sent out and I had time to collect my thoughts and bask in the moment I got down to collect my trophy. Having seen the buck fall in sight I walked right over to admire this beautiful animal. He’s not the biggest buck I’ve ever killed, but without question he is my most prized trophy. I have never worked harder or stayed more persistant in the pursuit of a single whitetail as I did with this buck, which made that moment all the better. Once again I took a few minutes to simply sit in the forest that I had walked with my dad many times before, reflecting on our misadventures and appreciating the feat which I had just accomplished.
This photo was taken where the giant buck fell, just 50 yards from my stand. He field dressed 195 lbs, putting him somewhere around 230 lbs on the hoof. A true Illinois brute.
Another shot of Little Mac that really shows off his beautiful coat and chocolate rack. I purposely took this photo in nearly the exact same spot where my dad took a photo of the last buck he ever harvested before his passing.
The past 7 months have been some of the most difficult times of my life and I’m still adjusting to life without my dad. He was the unwavering rock in my life that was always there no matter what, and I wished more than anything that he was there to share in that moment with me. Although he wasn’t there in person, I know he was there with me in spirit and in my heart. This quest, and this buck, were for him.
RIP Terry “Moosehunter” Zarr1956-2010
Never underestimate the power of a really good mustache!